The agents of, uh, S.H.I.E.L.D. face a daunting obstacle in the homestretch of their fourth season, with a whole new reality created to manipulate their lives and turn them against each other. This is happening because a LMD decided to take control from her creators, taking control of destiny and that destiny came a little closer to being revealed in this week’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode, “Identity and Change”.
It definitely changes the tone of the season when the big bad for the past three season is now comfortable being the merciful one compared to the character many viewers considered as the gentle heart of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, and yet that is what happens in this new world, “The Framework”. At first blush, it would seem that this world created by wayward LMD Aida is just a bizarro scenario where the world is “Hail Hydra”-ing and everyone who was good is now bad and vice versa but there is so much more though. Every imaginable variation to the show’s arc explored here.
One, there is Mack. Hope, the daughter he never got to raise in the real world, is a wise cracking science whiz in this reality. The daughter and father initially don’t have anything to do with Hydra. The drone that they are building (like any normal family) turns out to have some discarded Hydra technology Hope acquired at school built into it. A fact that absolutely terrifies Mack, appropriately so considering that it puts a big old “Hail Hydra” target on both of their backs. May, along with a still undercover Daisy, apprehend the two after they narrowly avoid detection during a Hydra raid on a bunch of NPCs waiting for a bus in search of any insubordination in the population (which is unsurprisingly routine in this new reality). The puzzle is so much wider than these two, though.
Jeffrey Mace, former S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, gets his Framework début as the resistance leader during a meeting with Jemma Simmons and a woke Phil Coulson. The drugs that plagued Jeffrey Mace in the real world to mask that he has no real superpowers to back up his claim as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. have disappeared in this topsy-turvy “Hail Hydra” world, a bright spot in this bleak reality. Once this whole mess gets straightened out, I hope Jeffrey Mace gets to continue being the Patriot the viewers know he is.
The show has revealed so many complicated and deep questions about its characters through the experiment that is “The Framework”, but the question remains (especially in regards to Grant Ward and Fitz): what is going to happen after this? The reality these characters find themselves inhabiting is not the black and white scenario we chose to believe it was in the beginning but one of the greyness this show trades in. The finish to this season will be the series’ most emotional based on this episode. Life outside this simulation will have Mace facing less than respectable deeds of his past and demotion in ranking. The person losing the most when the characters return to their reality is Mack, who will say goodbye to his daughter for a second time. The world of the “Framework” is already so fully realized that I can start to see the complications its destruction, and the choices leading to it, will have on the characters in the future of the show moving forward.
The company of Coulson, Daisy, Jemma and Ward had the best storyline though.
Initially, the story was going along just like any other episode of the show: Phil Coulson was making Star Wars reference, Daisy Johnson was being her rebellious and snarky self and Jemma Simmons was being Jemma Simmons. Was it not fact that Coulson dressed as a school teacher and answering to Jeffrey Mace, you would not be at fault to think the scenes shared by these four characters wasn’t taking place in the “Framework”. Coulson’s body got experimented on so much, he was at least a little immune to Aida’s programming which is why his real personality was able to seep into every scene he was in and make it quirky. It fits considering that Coulson, has been the heart of not only the show but also at MCU so it would be hard to gloss over his genuine goodness. Grant Ward, however, is a character that was easily reprogrammed in this reality (fitting for a character easily brainwashed), which made for a compelling standoff. Complicated does not begin to describe the scene in which Coulson and Daisy confront Radcliffe, closely followed by the scene between Daisy and Mack.
Hydra figures out Daisy’s true identity thanks to the superhuman (or should I say Inhuman?) abilities of May. The daughter/father duo was the other half of the equation that allowed Agent May to crack Daisy Johnson, as while the former hacker was interrogating she was actually the one being vetted through a wire tap planted on Mack by May. Up until this point Daisy at least had the buffer of being undercover in Hydra as she tried to figure everything out, but now she has been dramatically revealed as a rebel. The week ends with Daisy in Hydra custody, with Fitz readying to torture her like he did with Radcliffe, and Mack betraying the closest person he has to a sister.
Mack’s exception to Hydra’s wrath probably won’t last past the end of the next episode, when he decides to rally against Aida. It felt wrong seeing Mack being such an underhanded character, but that could not compare to what happened when Coulson and company confronted Radcliffe.
To get back to their reality, the rebels had to infiltrate Radcliffe’s paradise island prison, which is when they found out he can’t leave the “Framework” because his body had died. The interlopers didn’t have time to process that before their trespassing was found out by Madam Hydra. S.H.I.E.L.D. (the resistance one, not the “Hail Hydra” one) is quickly surrounded by Hydra forces with Madam Hydra heading the charge, and Fitz with an itchy trigger finger willing to do whatever his lady-love Aida says.
Jemma, who was waiting in faraway bushes with Grant Ward as back up, had to beg the man who put her friends and herself through for mercy towards the man she loved which surprisingly worked on him.
Going into this scene, a lot was riding on the outcome considering this was Fitz ultimately. On Madam Hydra/Aida’s order, the Hydraized Fitz points a gun at Radcliffe’s love. This life didn’t just end when Fitz shot her, but Jemma’s faith in him too.
Anyway, it was bad. Screams echoed. The lives of these two were irreparably compromised due to the actions of this brainwashed version of a once good man. Daisy has a one-on-one conversation with Fitz later, giving her a chance to see how not even the screams of Simmons could wake him. Has Leo Fitz revealed his true self after seasons of a long con that’d make Ward blush?
The gusto of this continuously stellar cast makes these developments as fast paced and emotional as they must in this case.
Yet, there is still something sinister being kept from the viewers about what this world really means. Control, and who wields it, is the question. Daisy and Jemma have had the worst time in this arc, but they had interaction with little resistance so why is the seemingly all-powerful Aida not putting more effort to stop them? The resistance, along with Grant Ward, serves exactly what purpose to Aida’s goals? All their programming are under her control, right? The Framework is controlling, and resides in the minds of, these select few Agents, but then why would Aida need to get back to the original reality to protect the world she’s created? Daisy Johnson should not even be a name that has ever passed these characters’ minds, but why does May not only know it but also that it’s Skye’s true identity?
Soon, the end of the season will be upon us and, with it, the pieces of this storyline will fall into place which will make the season’s endgame much clearer. The fireworks have only just begun to go off and, by the end, there will only be ash in their wake.